The European Union Wednesday unveiled a policy document, outlining the broad contours of significantly scaling up ties with India in a plethora of areas like trade, investment, infrastructure, defence, security and counter-terrorism, and proposed a military-to-military cooperation in the Indian Ocean.
Releasing the document, the European Union’s Ambassador to India Tomasz Kozlowski said it lays the foundation to take the relationship to the next level, besides seeking to work together for a rules-based international order as well as to jointly deal with pressing regional and global challenges.
The strategy paper, which replaces a similar document issued in 2004, said the EU has an “interest” in strengthening its political, economic and defence cooperation with India as a strong partnership with New Delhi was key for a balanced EU policy towards Asia as a whole.
“The strategy illustrates a very important fact that India is on the top of our agenda in the field of external relations. We think that we are ready for a joint leap now,” Kozlowski told reporters.
The document identified a range of areas including trade, investment, infrastructure, defence and security, blue economy and environment for scaling up cooperation.
On the long-pending India-EU free trade agreement, he said the grouping is committed to negotiate a comprehensive, balanced and economically meaningful agreement on trade and investment, adding both sides are engaged on it.
When asked about the contentious issue of data protection, Kozlowski said it is a very sensitive matter for the EU and that three delegations from Europe have apprised the Indian government as well as Indian industries about the EU’s new data protection regulation.
“We are happy that India is working on its privacy laws. We are impressed by the Supreme Court’s ruling recognising privacy as a fundamental right. India is now working on privacy law. The EU will provide our contribution to public consultation on it,” he said.
The EU is known to have some reservations over India’s move to localise data.
The envoy said the EU was ready to explore “all options” for starting negotiations with India on data protection and related issues.
The document said, as a leading world economy and the world’s largest democracy, India’s endorsement of a high level of data protection would constitute a critical example at a moment where there is an increasing demand for international standards on privacy.
On maritime cooperation with India, he said, “we are proposing to the Indian side to establish military-to military cooperation.”
“The scope for cooperation, especially in the Indian Ocean, is very large. The EU and India have cooperated in anti-piracy efforts in the Indian Ocean and the EU would like to see India joining on efforts to escort World Food Programme shipments off the coast of Somalia,” the envoy said.
He said the EU and India should join forces to promote the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, as the basis of ocean governance and work more closely in the field of maritime surveillance.
“The EU aims to enhance overall cooperation with Asian partners, and with India in particular. To this end, the EU will seek to establish military-to-military contacts with Indian counterparts in order to explore concrete opportunities for cooperation,” he said.
Kozlowski, however, made it clear that it was not going to be a military alliance.
Without mentioning China’s military assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region, he said both India and EU were strong promoters of the respect for international law, in particular the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Asked about India joining the US, Australia and Japan in forming a quadrilateral coalition for the Indo-Pacific, he said it was New Delhi’s decision and that EU’s approach to manage international relations is based on multilateralism.
On EU’s position on grey listing of Pakistan by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), he did not give a direct reply, but said the EU favours putting certain countries under such restrictions.
FATF, the global financial watchdog had placed Pakistan in its grey list for failing to check terror financing in the country.
The policy paper said countering radicalisation, including terrorist financing and preventing violent extremism were of priority for both partners.
It said both sides should cooperate to pursue common objectives in international and regional organisations, including at the UN, G20, the FATF and the Global Counter-terrorism Forum, notably on terrorist financing and terrorist designation listing.
About regional situation, the document said the stability and security of Asia was increasingly important for European interests and that EU and India should step-up engagement to support the resilience of states, and to address root causes of conflicts through joint approaches and preventive diplomacy.
On connectivity projects, it said the EU and India share the view that their approaches to connectivity should be sustainable, comprehensive and rules based.
The document recognised that India has emerged as the fastest-growing large economy and favoured deepening of trade and investment ties between the two sides.
In 2017, the EU was India’s largest trading partner, while India was the EU’s ninth largest trading partner, amounting to a total of Euro 86 billion worth of trade in goods and Euro 29 billion trade in services.